Mammy Kate

Text By Beverly L. Pack

Stephen Heard served briefly on two separate occasions as temporary Governor and Council President in the early Colonial days of Georgia. Heard had a Negro house slave whom they called Mammy Kate. She was more than six feet tall, very strong, and absolutely fearless. In an old letter, written in 1820, she was referred to as, "the biggest, the tallest, the most imposing Negress I have ever seen and she has proven herself to be a strong, a kindly, a never failing friend to Colonel Heard and his family." Kate was of pure African blood and declared herself to be the daughter of a great king.

On War Hill at Kettle Creek, 8 miles from Washington, Georgia on February 14, 1779, Stephen Heard (who later became Governor of Georgia) was one of 23 Americans wounded and captured by the Tories. Colonel Moore took him and the other prisoners to Fort Cornwallis at Augusta, Georgia. When Mammy Kate learned of the news that Governor Heard was in prison in Augusta, she was determined that her master should be free. She mounted Lightfoot (an Arabian horse belonging to Stephen Heard) and rode to Augusta, which was about 50 miles from Fort Heard (Wilkes County where the town of Washington now stands) where the Heards made their home.

Mammy Kate
Mammy Kate
Photo © Grandmother Stories from the Land of Used-To-Be

She stopped just outside the town and found a safe place for keeping the horse. Then she procured a clothes basket and went to the fort, offering to take in washing for the British officers. She soon won favor, for she could iron ruffled shirts beautifully, and the dandy officers liked that. After a while, she asked permission to do Governor Heard's washing. "He won't need them. We will soon hang that rebel," said the jailer. "Let him hang in clean clothes," begged Kate. This request was granted. She was allowed to go back and forth to the prison, and given unusual privileges. Kate was allowed to visit twice a week and return his clothes for washing.

She never failed to bring food -- usually the "Georgia ash-cake." Mammy Kate lived to be very old and used to tell her master's children and grandchildren tales of the war. "Lord a mussy, honey," she would say, " I had to put dat bread in my bosom to get it to marster." The she would add, with a shake of her head, " But I always took it out ' fore I got dar, 'cause he was might perticler."

It was about dusk one evening when she returned with the clothes basket on her head, and made some saucy remark as she passed the guard. That was the last ever seen of Mammy Kate and Governor Heard at Fort Cornwallis. Instead of soiled linen, the governor of Georgia was tucked away under the sheet that covered the basket. Stephen Heard was not a large man, though distinguished and handsome. On her way out she passed the unsuspicious sentry and several British and Tory officers without question.

No doubt Mammy Kate walked from the fort with the bib basket lightly poised, her arms a-kimbo, singing a plantation tune. But as soon as out of sight she carefully lowered the basket, and she and her master ran as fast as they could to the thicket where the horses were tied. She had stolen Silverheels, the Governor's Arabian horse, from the enemy's stables, and he and Lightfoot were waiting to take them out of danger of British bullets.

On the way to Fort Heard, Stephen turned to Mammy Kate and said, "Kate, you have this day saved my life, and I shall set you free." "Na, Marse Stephen," she replied, "You may set me free, but I ain't 'gwiner set you free." Her love for her kind master and old home was strong, and like many slaves, she lived in freedom from care and want, loved and honored by her white friends. Stephen Heard not only gave her her freedom but he also gave her a small tract of land and a comfortable four-roomed home in which she lived until death. Daddy Jack, the gardener, was her husband, and they had nine children. She faithfully remained with the Heard family until she died an old woman. Mammy Kate made a will leaving each of her nine children to one of Governor Heard's children--of whom there were nine. So the children of the devoted black mammy were given to the Heard family by the legal will of their mother. Mammy Kate and Daddy Jack lie buried in the corner of the Heard, Allen, McIntosh, Mattox burial ground at 'Heardmont,' near Elberton in Elbert County, at the feet of the master and mistress they served so faithfully. No marker shows the resting place of this heroine.

Stephen Heard & Silverheels

Stephen Heard & Silverheels
Photo © Grandmother Stories from the Land of Used-To-Be

MAMMY KATE BIBLIOGRAPHY

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